The Best of Intentions

I immensely enjoy your newspaper and greatly look forward to getting it every week.

I would like to take issue with the “Positive Parenting” column in the daily paper, titled “Issues of Joint Custody” (Nov. 28, page 16). [In this column, a reader asked how involved she should be in the lives of her nieces and nephews, whose parents are divorced and who do not want to spend their mandated half-week at the home of their mother, the writer’s sister, who lacks parenting skills.]

I was shocked beyond belief that a qualified LCSW, Shira Frank, could give such advice to the loving, caring sister of this divorced family. She suggested that the sister get completely involved in the poor, mixed-up children’s lives and also in the divorced parents’ lives! No, just the opposite! Isn’t there more than enough pain and confusion in their lives? (Especially the children’s lives!)

This caring sister, no matter how pure her intentions are, is to do precisely the opposite: to step back and stay out — or the children will be even more mixed up, unable to know and decide who their real parents are (especially the younger children.)

I’m sure (although you didn’t mention) that there must be a neutral social worker and judge involved in this terribly unfortunate story. Let this sister speak to the appropriate people so that both mother and father can get proper guidance on how to be proper, healthy parents.

This inyan of joint custody — half a week with the mother and half a week with the father — is terrible! The children will get even sicker in such a situation.

If this caring sister really wants to help, she must immediately speak to the appropriate qualified professional people and maybe get a qualified Rav involved.

This sister can and should from time to time treat the children to a nice day out, a Shabbos or some nice treats — but beware, stay out! For the sake of the children, do not become a third parent!

I cried when I read this article as I, too, unfortunately have had such problems in my relative’s family.

Wishing you the very best of luck, with all my heart,

Esther Kunin, Jerusalem

Shira Frank responds:

I hear your point of view and understand your concerns. However, I clearly wrote that the best-case scenario in this situation is to have a professional third party involved (as you suggest). Having a sister involved is definitely b’di’eved.

Unfortunately, there are circumstances in which there is no third party available to help such problematic families. Either no appropriate person (who understands the magnitude of the family’s problems) desires to be involved and help, or both parents deny the need for an outsider’s help.

Mandated help by a professional social worker (as you mention) only exists when the situation is extremely difficult. When the help is mandated and against the parents’ desires, parents are often very resentful and non-compliant. Their parenting skills don’t usually improve under such circumstances.

I did not ever write that the sister should become completely involved with her sister’s children. That would only be counterproductive. The children’s mother could become jealous of the relationship and become depressed, clearly seeing her inability to parent. The mother might even abnegate her parenting responsibilities and expect her sister to fulfill them.

Studies show that having one devoted and consistent individual involved in his or her life is the saving grace for a child of a dysfunctional family. Thus, being sure that the children have games to play with on Shabbos, making some play dates with cousins, and paying nieces and nephews for babysitting are far from complete involvement. These actions are a way of creating positive experiences for children living in a difficult situation.